A word of appreciation for Elektra: Assassin

There’s a number of comics constantly spoken about as breaking new ground in the 1980’s and bringing a new audience into the world of comics. The same names come up; Watchmen, Maus, Dark Knight Returns, maybe Love and Rockets, Swamp Thing and Daredevil. One a few lists you’ll get possibly the most subversive comic published by the Big Two publishers in the 80’s; Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz‘s Elektra: Assassin.

Originally an eight issue mini series from Marvel’s Epic imprint (their creator owned or non-mainstream line) , Elektra: Assassin starred Frank Miller’s creation Elektra who he’d introduced and subsequently killed in his acclaimed Daredevil run. This though was something out of continuity is still some of the most brilliantly insane comics Marvel have ever published.

The story seems basic enough. Elektra is on the trail of The Beast, a demon whose end-goal is possessing the president of the United States and starting a nuclear war. In this task she’s aided and abetted by a SHIELD agent called Garrett who in the course of the series because more and more of a cyborg due to being blown and cut up.

Remember that in 1985/6 America was trapped in the presidency of Ronald Reagan while the baby boomer generation had started gaining power and influence over politics, culture and media. There was also a wave of comics where characters started waving big guns around as the 80’s Rambo culture seeped into comics with ultra-violent titles like The Punisher. All of this was thrown into the mix to create an ultra-violent satire on American politics, culture and superhero comics that doesn’t grow old or not relevant.

Elektra: Assassin is from that period prior to 911 where Frank Miller was one of the few creators who could take on the left and right of politics equally and find both lacking, while at the same time playing on the monsters created by both. It really is a comic that gives its all, and asks the reader to work to go with the inspired lunacy, not to mention genius, being paid out from page to page.

So if you want to see how exciting comics were in the 80’s as well as reading something that is a fantastic work of art, then Elektra: Assassin should be for you, assuming killer cyborgs and ninjas are to your taste of course…

What I thought of Dark Knight III: The Master Race #1

darkknightmasterrace

30 years ago Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns came out from DC Comics and didn’t just redefine Batman, or show a creator at the very peak of his creative powers but it gave DC Comics (along with Watchmen) their first huge success of the modern era. It also did the thing of completely rewriting how people did superhero comics which in many cases, ended up with 4th rate Frank Miller clones trying hard to emulate him and generally being total shite, and the less said about Miller’s 2001 sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the better.

I still remember being a lad working in AKA Books and Comics in Glasgow opening up the boxes from that weeks delivery seeing that brilliant cover of that first issue and thinking even then that this was something special so it’s with a cautious sense of optimistic nostalgia that I approach Dark Knight III: The Master Race.

The first thing that’s obvious is that the lighter tone of The Dark Knight Strikes Again is pretty much gone as is Frank Miller’s art replaced here by Andy Kubert and Klaus Jansen’s passable Miller pastiche.

darkknightmasterrace1

There’s been some debate online as to how much input co-writer Brian Azzarello has in this series, and it has to be said, it certainly reads like Miller but that internal monologue style he made popular is pretty easy to replicate, and frankly in this it feels tired. From the off, it all feels, well, like a 80’s or 90’s band getting back together for a tour but the only remaining member is the lead singer and he’s sort of lost his voice.

darkknightmasterrace2

The actual story is fairly academic as it’s about getting Batman into fights, and this achieves that, plus there’s a bit about Superman and Wonder Woman which pads things out but the main story is over and done with quickly. Nothing new or exciting happens. It is quite literally going over old ground and each page reminds me of just how groundbreaking and exciting this isn’t.

Then there’s the back up strip set in the ‘Dark Knight Universe’ starring the Atom.

darkknightmasterrace3

This is better, but it’s still not doing anything exciting or new. It’s just another grim superhero story. We’ve seen it, and like old bands cranking out gigs on the nostalgia circuit this manages to remind you sort of what it used to be like but it’s not the same. This isn’t fresh, and in fact it drips with being a tedious marketing ply with every page.

I can’t honestly think of one thing in this that hasn’t been done better by other writers over the last 30 years and in that sense this is a shame as it’s like watching a much loved band come out singing flat every other note. It still creaks through as a read but I just wish that these talented people involved tried something new and that Frank Miller thought better of his legacy than to leave it like this all battered and torn like a used copy of Razzle rather than add something glorious to it.

Is Frank Miller trolling the world with his Dark Knight cover?

I mean look at this?

frankmillerdarkknight

I mean just LOOK at it!

What’s Superman’s cock doing? If Superman is hitting the Atom shouldn’t the Atom be a jar of raspberry jam? Those little Superman booties! The face! Dear god, the face!

Everything here is just wrong. It’s as if Miller channel a bit of Kevin O’Neill and Mick McMahon while having some sort of fit, because if the best thing anybody can say about a piece of art is that the colours are quite nice then you’ve got a lot of work to convince people the stuff inside the covers are going to be actually any good.

Dark Knight Returns is obviously a classic of the medium. Its sequel Dark Knight Strikes Again is something I actually really liked mainly because as deadly serious as the original is, the sequel is a satire of superhero comics themselves. As for Miller, he’s the man that brought Daredevil back to life as a comic and a character, before going onto do some astonishingly good stuff like Elektra: Assassin, Give Me Liberty and Sin City.

Since Dark Knight Strikes Again his work has been poor. 9/11 seems to have been an event that not only traumatised him, but pushed him to do Holy Terror, an openly vile bit of racist Islamophobic propaganda, but this is just shite. There’s nothing great about seeing one of your former heroes fall so far from grace that he’s hacking out terrible bits of art, so he’s either lost the talent he had or he’s simply taking the piss out of us all.

Except he’s not. This is real. It’s shite and DC Comics are actually going to publish it. Oh dear…..

What I thought of Daredevil episodes 10-13

After the last set of episodes I was pretty excited for the final four episodes and on the whole they don’t really disappoint but although there’s more positives than negatives, these episodes are wonderful but exceptionally annoying at times. Before I get stuck in again, as usual, huge massive spoilers ahead.

After the end of episode nine, Daredevil has been given the beating of his life, plus his partner, Foggy, has unmasked him revealing his secret identity; something Foggy doesn’t especially like as he now realises the scale of the lies Matt’s been telling him for as long as he’s known him. In this episode we get a lot of flashbacks to Matt and Foggy meeting at university, becoming friends, drinking, chatting up girls (including a massive line dropped that shows Elektra is definitely on the programme’s agenda)  and deciding eventually to go into partnership to fight for the little guy in Hell’s Kitchen.

It’s a decent episode though Foggy’s anger at Matt is just a wee bit too contrived for it to really convince but the actors do as good a job as they can, though the script doesn’t quite work in this episode. This basically sets up the final episodes with a separate main trio of Karen, Matt and Foggy all trying to work out what to do next as Wilson Fisk consolidates his grip on Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately for Fisk at a reception he hosts for the great and good of New York, it turns out someone has poisoned the drinks and that Vanessa, Fisk’s girlfriend has drunk the poison and passed out.

Episode eleven and twelve outline how Vanessa recovers but for a couple of episodes Fisk is just sitting around useless in a hospital waiting room as people around him scheme his downfall. His Chinese allies have their operation stopped by Daredevil (in a fight scene well directed by former Doctor Who director Euros Lyn), while Karen and journalist Ben Urich have tracked down Fisk’s mother in a nursing home but as she’s suffering from dementia, she doesn’t provide any useful information apart from telling them that Wilson murdered his father. Unluckily for Karen, Fisk’s mother manages to tell Wesley, Fisk’s assistant, that she was visited by Karen and Ben. Leaving Fisk without telling him where he’s going, Wesley kidnaps Karen,points a gun at her and offers her a job. Foolishly for him, he leaves the gun on the table thinking that even if Karen picks up the gun, she’ll never use it. She does. Wesley is shot dead, and Karen legs it after cleaning up fingerprints and throws the gun in the river.

Meanwhile Matt has tracked down Fisk’s tailor, Melvin Potter (AKA The Gladiator) and after a small fight discovers Melvin is being blackmailed by Fisk, but he promises to help him if Melvin makes him a special suit. More of that in a moment…

A lot happens in episodes eleven and twelve. Vanessa is poisoned, recovers and moves in with Fisk having now fully embraced who and what he is. Major supporting characters are killed:Wesley by Karen and Ben Urich by Fisk. Matt’s secrets are found out by Foggy and he eventually tries to come to terms with who and what Matt is.  Basically, there’s an awful lot of plot and characters become big broad strokes at times but as we reach the final episode things don’t look good.

The last episode starts with Urich’s funeral. An event that eventually brings the trio of Matt, Foggy and Karen back together in order to bring down Fisk before he becomes too powerful to stop. Luckily one of the crooked policemen from the first half of the series still lives and is being protected by Fisk’s accountant Leland, who is keeping him alive as collateral against Fisk as Leland is stealing from Fisk. He also poisoned Vanessa. Thinking he’s got the upper hand Leland tries to leave New York, but Fisk kills him. Before Fisk’s men kills the corrupt policeman who’s evidence would bring Fisk down, Daredevil turns up to save him. He tells him to turn himself into one of his friends in the police he can trust, and Nelson and Murdock will represent him in court.

This unleashes the authorities to arrest  everyone connected to Fisk, or at least all the people they know about but they manage to nick Fisk though not before he’s given Vanessa instructions.

As Matt, Foggy and Karen celebrate in Josies, their local bar, they find out that Fisk’s police escort has been intercepted by Fisk’s troops and that they’re trying to free him, and whisk him out of the city. Matt sets out to stop this happening but not before he picks up that suit from Melvin..

MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

It’s not a bad version of Wally Wood’s classic design, but that mask annoys me. It does look better on the screen, but it’s decent enough, but I hope they tweak a few things before we see it again.

Daredevil manages to stop Fisk’s truck, and the pair have a massive climatic fight in a dark alley, and Daredevil manages this time to reverse the result of last time the pair fought and he beats Fisk, in every sense. As the series ends Fisk is in prison, Matt, Foggy and Karen are back as friends and are trying to make Hell’s Kitchen better, and Daredevil is finally accepted as a hero by the people of the city. It’s a great ending setting up more Daredevil in the future

So what of the series as a whole? Well, the first six episodes are fantastic and although the rest of the series is of a high standard, it’s not of the same quality as the first half of the series. As a whole it is fantastic and Marvel’s insistence on casting good actors pays off big time here, though the scripts need tightening up so that it decides if it’s grim crime drama or superheroics, rather than trying to straddle the pair. Also, for a programme based around lawyers there needs to be more of Nelson and Murdock defending people in court using the system to protect them. Then there’s the costume that needs a bit sorting out here and there, but really it’s minor stuff. Daredevil is a fine attempt to bring Bill Everett and Stan Lee’s creation to life, not to mention it bodes well for the future Netlfix Marvel series, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and then all four combine in The Defenders.

Daredevilnetflixsuit1

 

I’d highly recommend this. It’s got me sucked into Netflix as well so now I’m going to finally see what the fuss is around Breaking Bad, a programme I’ve not seen a second of….

 

What I thought of Daredevil episodes 7-9

I’ve managed to get through the first six episodes fairly quickly but sadly real life is intruding on watching all of the Netflix adaptation of Marvel’s Daredevil, but I will see it before its ruined for me! As I don’t fancy spoiling this for anyone, as usual, big massive spoilers ahead….

daredevilnetflix

After the end of episode six Matt has seen Fisk wipe out the Russians with help from his Chinese mobster allies, plus Matt now realises that vast parts of the media and police are in the control of Wilson Fisk. As episode seven opens we’re introduced to Stick (grumpily played by Scott Glen), the Frank Miller created character that trained Matt in how to use his powers and become a kick arse ninja superhero. This allows a bit of flashback action à la Arrow and it’s not quite as effective as some of that series due to the fact the plot set in the present day is more interesting than the past, but that aside it’s a chance to offset Matt’s moral centre with Stick’s.

This is due to the fact that he’s returned to stop some villainous weapon called The Black Sky obtained by Fisk’s Yakuza allies to do something very unpleasant to Hell’s Kitchen. After a fight scene (there’s a lot of those this episode) Daredevil discovers The Black Sky is a child and Stick intends killing him; something he stops but instead of sorting things out he stomps off in a giant flounce enabling the script to kill the child off camera and therefore reducing the impact a tad of how terrible a weapon (and this is the first real major hint of superpowers beyond Matt’s abilities in the programme so far) The Black Sky is. It’s an odd choice considering the brutal violence a few episodes earlier and in the following episode. There’s also a massive bit of foreshadowing about Matt being trained as a warrior in a ‘Great War’ still to come, for readers of Frank Miller’s run in the 80’s they’ll know right away this is The Hand.

The next episode is a Wilson Fisk focused episode dealing with his childhood in 1970’s New York. On the whole this is a far better episode after the patchy previous episode as it paints a simply dismal picture of Fisk’s life as a child as an abused child suffering under the fist of his abusive father, though his mother tries to protect him she ends up being beaten too. We learn Fisk’s father Bill, tried running for the local council but failed to be elected owing money to a local mobster. One night things turn out for the worst as Fisk’s father beats his mother so severely that Wilson grabs a claw hammer and beats his father to death in a pretty nasty scene. To lay on the grand guignol his mother tells Wilson to fetch the saw so she can cut his father up and dump in the river. It’s a brutal, if possibly cliched story of how a young boy became a monster but it’s effectively done. By the end of the episode we feel sorry for the child Fisk but as the adult Fisk finally reveals himself to the city as a millionaire philanthropist rather than the monster we know he is, there’s little hope that Daredevil can fight this man, something emphasised in the next episode.

Episode nine is yet another episode where Daredevil takes a total kicking; this time at the hands of Nobu (like the restaurant) the leader of Fisk’s Yakuza allies who happens to be a kick arse ninja.  Fisk decides enough is enough, and a trap is laid as the kindly old Hispanic woman Matt, Foggy and Karen have been helping in her problems with her slum landlord is murdered by a junkie hired by Fisk.The junkie only tells Daredevil where he’s supposed to be and although he doesn’t go into the deserted warehouse where a trap is obviously being set all guns blazing, he does quickly get the living shite kicked out of him by Nobu who he only manages to stop by killing him, breaking Matt’s one big rule.

At this point a lesser drama would leave it here, but the makers of Daredevil pile it on as Wilson Fisk, his assistant Wesley and a heavy turn up to confront a badly beaten and serious bleeding Daredevil. After an attempt to fight Fisk, Daredevil is beaten to a pulp, and left to be executed by Wesley and the heavy, but Matt manages to jump out the window into the river and escapes. At the same time Foggy is trying to see if Matt’s in his apartment after drinking with Karen, but there’s no answer at Matt’s door, but Foggy can hear strange noises inside so he manages to get in and finds Daredevil in a bloody heap on Matt’s floor. Foggy unmasks Daredevil to find out he’s really Matt Murdock and there ends episode nine.

These episodes are really the most ”comic booky” of the series so far with superpowered child weapons, ninjas and mysterious powers everywhere, not to mention that classic superhero cliche, the unmasking by a friend/partner/relative. On the whole it’s all done so well that you don’t notice the creaks in some of the dialogue at times (especially in Stick) or the odd duff performance (the injured corrupt policeman could have been played by 13 stone of mince and nobody could notice the difference)  because the entire thing just cracks along.

I did mention previously that the makers have decided not to credit Wally Wood, the creator of the famous red outfit and the double DD logo, but they could do worse than crediting Will Eisner as at times it feels less like a Daredevil story and a story of The Spirit, one of the big influences of Frank Miller whose run this draws heavily from and who’s DNA runs deep in this type of superhero. It’s not a huge thing as Miller has always credited Eisner at every opportunity but it’d be nice in this age of a supposed new ‘creator friendly’ Marvel Comics that people got their due.

But that’s an aside. I seriously recommend this series but I’d have though after the 17th time Matt takes a kicking he’d actually be in the red suit by episode nine!

Next time, I’ll do a rundown of however many episodes I get through tonight…

What I thought of Daredevil episodes 1-6

After starting my Netlfix Daredevil binge yesterday I’m now six episodes in and on the whole, it’s very possibly the best superhero TV series bar The Flash around at the moment. These are my comments on those six episodes so obviously massive spoilers ahead.

Daredevil isn’t without some issues but it’s effectively managed to draw together a good solid elongated origin story for not just Daredevil, but the Kingpin/Wilson Fisk while at the same time touching on issues like gentrification and the insanely fucked up American healthcare system. And there’s one of the problems with the script. It’s flagging issues up in such a way that it’s the equivalent of Stan Lee running around every time it happens to quip about Marvel’s social responsibility. It sometimes works, it sometimes gets in the way of the narrative.

As for the story the first episode kicks off with young Matt Murdock losing his eyesight in a road accident that sees him saving an old man, but thanks to some mysterious toxic waste, he’s made blind but also develops super senses and a sort of ‘radar sense’ that’s never called ‘radar sense’ so far, even though in a later episode it’s quite wonderfully described as Matt seeing everything as an ‘impressionistic painting’. After this opening we see Matt as Daredevil breaking up a human trafficking gang in New York in what is possibly his first time out fighting crime in order to clean up Hell’s Kitchen and New York generally.

We’re also introduced to Foggy Nelson, Matt’s partner in the legal firm they’ve opened up in Hell’s Kitchen to fight for the people that fall through the cracks. This sets up Matt as a person fighting for what’s right by day and by night. It sets Matt up as a moral and just man, and in the hands of a lesser actor than Charlie Cox this could have easily be played in the most cliched manner possible but Cox does a fantastic job in these episodes as someone coming to terms that he’s dropped himself into something he can’t actually grasp because it’s far too big. this becomes clear as Matt and Foggy take their first case in the shape of Karen Page, a young woman seemingly bang to rights for the murder of one of her work colleagues but after some questioning from Matt and Foggy, they realise there’s more to the case. It turns out that Karen has stolen something from her employer and that her employer works for someone far bigger further up the food chain. After some work from Matt and Foggy, not to mention with help from Daredevil, Karen is found innocent and she offers to help the pair’s new legal practice as their secretary.

The first episode doesn’t mention at all who the villain is. His name isn’t mentioned  in this first episode, and he’s not seen for a few episodes later when we first get introduced to Wilson Fisk he’s portrayed as a man of wealth and taste at an art exhibition. Comic readers know that Fisk is The Kingpin, the crime lord of New York, but this story has Fisk setting his career up as he helps rebuild New York after the battle in The Avengers, an event often brought up as a major plot point often, It’s a smart use of Marvel’s cinematic continuity to drive the plot of this series that connects this to the larger Marvel Universe rather than have say, Iron Man fly past in one episode and everyone going ”oooOOoooo” and thinking no more about it.

From the second episode on things ramp up. We find out that Japanese, Russian and American mobs are all in alliance with Fisk’s organisation, and that the Russians especially are being hammered by Daredevil’s activities. At this point it’s worth mentioning that Daredevil crosses the streams with Arrow and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, except they all draw from the same source material, Batman: Year One and Frank Miller’s Daredevil stories. They all do different things with them, so Nolan started with a gritty street level Batman, and Arrow started off as a vigilante trying to clean up his city (and at times Daredevil even hits some of the same beats as the first series of Arrow) but in all three cases the execution is different. Arrow is vaguely campy melodrama, Nolan’s Batman films went from gritty crime drama to pompous shite while Daredevil (so far) has maintained the same tone in the six episodes I’ve watched so far. The DNA however is pure Frank Miller, with a little bit of Wally Wood and Gene Colan in the heavy use of black, not to mention sodium streetlights in the palate used to light the programme.It is basically, it’s own beast. Showrunner Dean Goddard does an impressive job holding it all together and making it look cinematic most of the time, though it does at times look like and feel like a TV programme in lots of shots of two people sitting/standing around spouting exposition to each other.

Where Daredevil does work perfectly it’s in its fight scenes. There’s a brilliant fight scene at the end of the second episode that uses almost Kubrickian zero point perspective perfectly as a battered and beaten Daredevil fights a load of Russian mobsters in a long corridor to rescue a young boy kidnapped to trap Daredevil and to be sold to human traffickers. There’s also a great scene in the fourth episode as Daredevil rescues his ally and friend Claire (played by Rosiario Dawson and better known in comics as the character Night Nurse)  from the Russian mob in a darkened garage.

But where Daredevil does step out from all of Marvel’s cinematic and TV output is the violence. Yes, they use terms like ‘shit’ and nearly say ‘fuck’ but the violence is at times extraordinarily brutal. No so more than a scene where after having Fisk built up as a crime lord, but one that likes fine women, art and adopts good taste on advice of his assistant Wesley, finally shows the monster he really is by killing one of the Russian brothers running their gang by beating him to a pulp and smashing his head off by a car door. It’s brutal and is up with that scene in Irreversible in terms of turning one’s stomach and I’m saying this as someone that likes my gore.This is much nastier but it’s essential to reveal Fisk’s true nature.

By the end of the sixth episode Matt realises that there’s large swathes of the police, the New York legal system and the political class in the pocket of Fisk, and that he’s quite possibly out of his depth completely. It’s also worth mentioning that his costume (a black top, trousers, and a mask) is hardly providing him protection but Matt describes it as a’work in progress’ not to mention Claire does a little bit of foreshadowing by saying he should wear armour. At some point in the second half of the series we know Daredevil starts wearing the traditional red suit, so it’s being signposted from nearly the start that Daredevil is going to look very different by the end of the series.

Daredevil so far is an excellent series. There’s some great attempts to build character in nearly everyone (though the Russians are just too cliche for words) with extra effort put into Matt/Daredevil and Fisk/The Kingpin. Everyone operates in a grey moral world, but that’s not stopping the baddies being really bad, and the goodies being really good because after all, this is based upon a comic where superheroes are just moral tales of good versus evil.

Right then, time for the next seven episodes….

I’m going to binge on Daredevil til my eyes bleed

The Netflix Daredevil TV series has finally debuted yesterday so all 13 episodes are available in one big hit so this means that rather sit around vaguely hungover, I’m going to embed myself on my sofa and binge on Daredevil until I explode.

I’ve watched the first episode, and on the whole it’s very good. It does have some of that annoyingly smug ‘Marvel style’ that sometimes grates a tad, but it’s mainly steeped in Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear story not to mention the early Bill Everett/Wally Wood stories, though bizarrely, Miller and Everett get a credit, but no sign as far as I can see of a credit for Wally Wood? Considering Wood created the famous red costume you’d think Marvel would mention him?

Anyhow, that aside, it’s a good solid first episode that gets the origin out the way so the rest of the series can get on with the superheroics. Unlike most of Marvel’s film and TV series, this is the one I’m genuinely quite positive about, so I hope the entire series lives to its potential. After I’ve binged and assuming I’m still alive and not suffered a thrombosis I’ll be doing a little overview of the series and give my opinion.

Til then, it’s time to put on the rubber knickers, surround myself with crisps and Irn Bru and dive right into Daredevil.

What I thought of Daredevil: Born Again

DaredevilBornAgain

I’ve been doing weekly reviews of some of the new comics I get each week for a year or so now, but a while back I said I’d review some old classics, so here’s the first one, Frank Miller’s best Daredevil story, Born Again. This story in nearly 30 years old yet it’s still the well that every single writer since has drawn from when writing about not just Daredevil, but that type of superhero however this is by far the best example of the story of a hero who has it all before being brought down by his main villain and then coming back from the dead and renewed in purpose.

30 years ago mainstream comics were in a very different place. DC were reshaping their entire line thanks to the miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, while they published the first American work of Alan Moore in Swamp Thing a few years earlier that started to change how mainstream superhero comics were written from a more literary background than many previous writers. Before all that Marvel had let Frank Miller loose on a comic called Daredevil, a fairly second rate superhero whose main identifying characteristic was that he was blind, but had a radar sense thanks to being exposed to radioactive waste in the same accident that blinded him. He was essentially Spider Man lite, but this meant he ended up being a pretty blank slate for when Frank Miller took over writing and drawing Daredevil in the early 1980’s. Miller, like Moore, drew from a literary background but Miller’s influences were more hard boiled and pulpy and this made his Daredevil more visceral than any other superhero comic on the market at the time.

It’s also worth noting that the Marvel Comics of 30 plus years ago under the then Editor in Chief Jim Shooter was a strange place. In one hand it published the likes of Daredevil that was breaking new ground, or John Byrne’s Fantastic Four which is still for me, the last really great run of that title,  while it also published crap like Secret Wars. Marvel on one hand could publish some fantastic material or pump out endless shite but shite that made the company vast sums of money at a time when people thought comics were dying. In fact the mid 1980’s energised comics as a whole with the effects still being felt today.

Born Again came at a time for Marvel when DC Comics were biting into their market share, and at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of any critical praise for 99% of Marvel’s output (though work like Moonshadow for Epic received rightfully high praise) until Born Again hit the shelves with the first part appearing in Daredevil #227.

Daredevil227

 

This issue outlines how The Kingpin tears down Matt Murdock’s life bit by bit, making his life as Matt and Daredevil a living hell, and then in the next issues, the Kingpin and Matt face off with the Kingpin thinking he’s killed Matt/Daredevil off. It’s a story that’s been done in various form so often over the last 30 years but here it’s raw, brutal and allows Miller to rip all the things that makes Daredevil what it was and gives Miller a chance to reshape Daredevil.Matt in his image. At the time the only other example of this is Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, but that was a title on the verge of cancellation and a character that wasn’t especially beloved of a load of fans so Moore could do pretty much what he wanted. Here, Daredevil was a solid Marvel character (thanks mainly to Miller’s previous run that dragged him up from the B Team to Marvel’s A List) with a large fan following, and done during a run that was getting acclaim thanks to David Mazzucchelli’s superb art.

Daredevil in these issues is mad. He’s had everything taken from him, and Matt even has Daredevil taken from him as the Kingpin knows his identity. And then as Matt is at his lowest, Miller redeems him and rebuilds him.Gone is the fancy Manhattan house, the big time lawyer practise, and Daredevil fighting traditional Marvel super villains. Replacing it is a Hell’s Kitchen setting. A more working class, Catholic background. A grounded Daredevil fighting for the weak, and not just beating up baddies for kicks and giggles.

Daredevil for a  while doesn’t even appear in the book. Miller relegates him to a mythic figure so he can rebuild Matt as an almost Messianic figure saving the people of Hell’s Kitchen from the crooks, mobsters, drug dealers and pimps infecting the area, and of course, from The Kingpin. Miller teases the reappearance of Daredevil choosing to have the costume worn by a psychopath used by The Kingpin. It’s only at the end of this issue that Miller has Matt back in costume in possibly one of the most iconic splash pages of the 80’s.

ddbornagain

The one thing Miller understood at this point was the power of comics. Sure, you could make this page work fine on screen, but turning the page and seeing this was astonishing and the praise Miller and Mazzucchelli get for this is never enough. At this point Miller was on an astonishing roll with Dark Knight Returns, Batman Year One, Daredevil: Love and War and the still extraordinary Elektra: Assassin all coming out within a few years. Any one of these works would be a single creators finest, but Miller did all those and of course, this one, for me, probably the finest bit of work Miller did in the 1980’s.

Once Matt’s back in the Daredevil outfit Miller allows superheroics to reappear. There’s a lovely cameo of The Avengers that mirrors Alan Moore’s use of the Justice League in Swamp Thing and then Miller throws the reader aside by giving us a Captain America story in the middle of this big Daredevil one. It’s only as best half an issue, but Miller’s Captain America ends up being the template for not only much of what comes after (Cap is this libertarian/liberal out to protect the ideals of America as opposed to this flag waving patriot he’d often been previously)  but in today’s Marvel films.

And that brings me to the Netflix Daredevil series out this week.Advance reviews are astonishingly positive, with the series looking as if they’ve simply used Miller’s Daredevil work as storyboards.

Of all the Marvel projects they’ve done, this is the one I’m utterly and completely excited for. It’s clear that Born Again as a film is the end goal which is testimony as to how great a story this is. Miller and Mazzucchelli didn’t just create a fine work that dragged the medium of comics on a bit, but they created a story that could work in any medium, as long of course you’re aware of the history of Daredevil, hence why Marvel didn’t just launch into this from the off.

Born Again is one of the finest superhero comics you’ll ever read. It’s a story of failure and redemption. It’s a story of a middle class hero being stripped down to his working class roots to stand out from Marvel’s legions of billionaire genius’s, Mutants, gods and aliens. It’s an ordinary man with extraordinary skills trying to do make things right for the weakest in society. It’s a story that’s been on TV and film to some extent (Arrow especially owes a lot to Miller’s work) but never to the level of quality that’s in Born Again.

I’ve avoided going into too much detail about the story of Born Again as it’s one that’s best appreciated by how little one knows about it before diving into it, and as a favour to those of you that haven’t read it, I suggest doing so sooner rather than later as you’ll end up enjoying something that changed superhero comics, not to mention the superhero genre across multiple mediums, forever.

Violence in Comics-1989 debate with Larry King & Denis Kitchen

In the late 80’s there was a huge public debate about comics becoming ‘more violent’ thanks to new mainstream titles like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One attracting attention from a more adult audience outside of the comics ghetto.There were attempts by retailers, publishers and the media to effectively censor comics.

This video recently popped up on Youtube and features Larry King hosting a debate between Thomas Radecki and Denis Kitchen and it’s worth watching for a piece of comics history. What’s remarkable is the examples of violence being used being pulled put of context to help build the biggest strawman you can imagine.

Also, check out the horrendous Paul Hogan advert for Australian tourism. You’ll want to commit violence after watching that…

Bitter Sweet Symphony part two/ Battle of the Planets

Last time I outlined a brief history of comic shops in Glasgow which is really a small part of a larger story about the rise of the direct market in the UK as more and more specialist comic and SF/fantasy shops grew across the country. Now there’s better people than me who have outlined the death of the newsstand market in the US and the history of the direct market as a whole in the US.

The UK direct market was slightly different in that American comics were still available in newsagents til the late 90’s thanks to Comag and Moore Harness, who finally kicked the bucket four years ago. The direct market was different in that you finally got the non distributed comics that were so hard to get in the UK, and you got them relatively cheaply so this is where there was a gap in the market and with Titan Distributors you had the first organised distribution system across the UK as opposed to the patchy methods of getting comics in directly to the UK in previous decades that was at the whim of the major companies like Marvel or DC.

There was also the problem that there was a lot of crooks in the distribution game so it was a front to launder money for gangsters or to distribute porn, which was the case in the US as well as here in the UK, but the point we pick things up here is the early 80’s when Titan Distributors are the main supplier to comic shops across the UK. That wasn’t to say we’re talking the million pound industry we have today. There was probably only two or three dozen shops across the UK by the middle of the 80’s, not counting the Virgin Megastore comic shops which sold comics and magazines like Fangoria to the record buying public.

Titan had a nice monopoly in that in those days in that you had to buy from them even though there were more than a few dealers voicing concerns that there could well be a conflict of interest as Mike Lake and Nick Landau who owned Titan, also owned Forbidden Planet in London and should they want, they could easily open FP’s across the country selling comics at less than any other shop.

But they didn’t. Lake and Landau both made it clear often that they wouldn’t open a shop where they had an existing Titan customer, so that ruled out Glasgow, Bristol, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and basically every major British city.

The only problem as I mentioned in passing in the first part that Titan deliveries would turn up a week or so after being released in the US, which wasn’t a huge problem in those pre-internet days but deliveries would often turn up with comics that the SF Bookshop in Edinburgh would get but AKA in Glasgow wouldn’t and vice-versa. Then there was the fact Titan could charge what they wanted within reason seeing as they had a monopoly and this meant American distributors looked at the UK with envious eyes, and slowly and surely they made their plans against Titan.

Mile High Comics made some attempts to distribute directly to shops in the UK, but the problem was they didn’t have a warehouse in the UK, so you ordered directly from their warehouse in the US and they packaged and shipped to the UK. This was basically what some dealers had been doing with them prior to Titan anyhow, but they opened the door before Bud Plant Comics made some attempts to piece the UK market and based on the West Coast of the US, they had a little bit more success but again, without a UK warehouse they were fighting a lost cause. Titan just made sure they didn’t fuck up, or put their prices up too high in case it alienated customers.

This changed when Neptune Distribution came on the scene in 1986. Neptune was set up by three students at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) who lived at 67 Barclay Street (more on this address another time) by the name of Geoff Fry, Sarah Hunter and Martin, who’s last name completely and utterly escapes me. It was Geoff though who was the comics geek, while Sarah and Martin were not readers. Sarah and Geoff were also seeing each other which is not important at the minute.

Geoff was the mastermind behind the operation and considering it was run out of their small living room in Barclay Street, they had a base of operations not to mention Geoff was smart enough to make contact with Bud Plant in the same way that Lake and Landau had made a connection with Phil Seuling’s Seagate Distributing at the start of Titan’s operation in the UK. This meant that Neptune could shift comics quickly and store some stock in what became the stock room, or normally, one of the bedrooms upstairs as Sarah and Geoff now shared a room.

The main problem for Neptune wasn’t to capitalise on Titan’s flaws, but to convince shops they weren’t a a risk or unreliable like the few other  distributors who tried to break Titan’s monopoly. The break was John Byrne’s Man of Steel, which was DC’s big Superman relaunch in 1986.

steel

 

Neptune managed to get this title to the few shops it had as customers three days before Titan. It sounds like no big deal at all, but it helped from stopping people go to the competition in either Glasgow or Edinburgh in AKA’s case. It was a nice way of getting one up that one of the biggest comics of the year was on sale before anyone else had it.

Neptune used that success to grow the business and they gained shops in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leicester, Sheffield, and across the UK fairly quickly over a period of 8-12 months as the direct market erupted after a huge amount of mainstream publicity over creators like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, and work like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Maus. Shops were springing up everywhere and there was a battle starting to brew between Neptune (the bright young challenger) and Titan (the undisputed champion) mainly to gain business but Geoff had it in his head to take on Mike Lake due to the fact he’d went away after a meeting with him utterly hating him. Plus this was the 80’s and the height of Thatcherism so Geoff wanted to crush Mike Lake because he was more successful than him.

By the end of 1987 Neptune had grown and was continuing to grow as they moved from the house on Barclay Street to a warehouse in Enderby, just on the outskirts of Leicester and near the M1. This was Neptune’s big advantage over Titan in that they could reach the shops in the Midlands and North of England quicker than Titan who only did van deliveries to London shops while Neptune did van deliveries not only to London shops, but across the Midlands.

When I moved to Leicester and started work for Neptune the intention was not for me to stay there, but go to run a Manchester warehouse which would supply the North of England and Scotland, while Leicester would supply the Midlands, and the London warehouse in Staines  would supply London and the South East. There was also a vague plan to expand Neptune’s US operation which was at that time, sharing a Bud Plant warehouse in Brooklyn in New York.

The situation at the start of 1988 is Neptune eating away at Titan’s market, with Titan trying to get as much of it back as possible while Mike Lake and Nick Landau still saying that FP will not expand outside of London to any city or town where there’s an existing Titan customer.

So we’re up to the point in 1988 where Geoff comes into the office shouting  at me saying ‘what the fuck do you know about Forbidden Planet opening in Glasgow?’…..

Next time, the Glasgow Comic Shop Wars….